AL STEWART: TIME PASSAGES (1978)
1) Time Passages; 2) Valentina Way; 3) Life In Dark Water; 4) A Man For All Seasons; 5) Almost Lucy; 6) Palace Of Versailles; 7) Timeless Skies; 8) Song On The Radio; 9) End Of The Day.
Before I start, here is a short message from a valued Internet partner of mine.
«Greetings from Amazon! We have recommendations for you. Viewing Al Stewart's Time Passages? Frequently bought together with Year Of The Cat and Past, Present And Future — add all three to Cart! (No, we do not offer a discount; would not that be too predictable for a respectable on-line service?) Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought: Year Of The Cat — Al Stewart; Past, Present And Future — Al Stewart; Modern Times — Al Stewart; Sparks Of Ancient Light — Al Stewart; 24 Carrots — Al Stewart; and whatever other Al Stewart is available as a mega-expensive import from the Land of the Rising Sun, the only country that is always willing to pander to men of exquisite tastes as long as they are ready to sacrifice food, gas, and lodging to permanent spiritual growth.
What? Not «Dumbass All-Consuming Customer»? Signing out and logging in with your regular name? All right, Mr. Smartypants, here is some updated information for you. Still viewing Al Stewart's Time Passages? WHY???... Mind you, it is actually frequently bought together with Tales Of Mystery And Imagination and I Robot! Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought: Pyramid — The Alan Parsons Project; Eve — The Alan Parsons Project; Turn Of A Friendly Card — The Alan Parsons Project; and then, all down the line. Only one customer had the nerve to buy Breakfast In America — Supertramp, but we wiped out his bank account as a restricting measure, so hopefully he'll never try that one again.»
Now, back to the review. I would be lying through my teeth if I said that Al Stewart was all but strangled on this album. He is, after all, writing songs, lyrics included, and singing them. He is returning to his world of allegories, with, at the very least, Thomas More and heroes of the French Revolution roaming through the tracks to refresh your memories of history classes. But it is also true that, by this point, Parsons, now an established rock star in his own rights, probably viewed all of the records that he was still producing as his own private domain; consequently, he produces everything as if Al Stewart were not Al Stewart at all, but rather Eric Woolfson, his singing and playing partner in The Project. As a result, Time Passages is, basically, an Alan Parsons record with special guest star Al Stewart invited to tell us about Thomas More.
At least two of the songs, 'Life In Dark Water' and 'Palace Of Versailles', with their grim, depressing synthesizer depths / heights, sound as if they come straight from Pyramid. If you hate generic «soft-prog» of the mid-Seventies, that one style that was dumbed down even further in the next decade, becoming «adult contemporary», better program them right out at the very beginning. Personally, I think that 'Dark Water', with its spooky tale of submarine life, is atmospherically successful, whereas 'Versailles' is too languid and boring to match its exciting lyrical subject, but these opinions could be turned round any day, for all I know.
The other tunes are a bit sunnier and cheerier, and the more the sun shines in on the music, the more we see of Al and the less of Alan. 'Valentina Way' is a solid, and surprisingly fast, pop-rocker with great melodic work from Renwick; 'Timeless Skies' is the only chance we get to enjoy the old folkie acoustic style; and both the title track and 'Song On The Radio' are two conscious attempts to pick off from where 'Year Of The Cat' left us yearning for more — big brawny anthems with strings, synths, and saxes battling it out on your radio. Perfect cruising material for 1978, and still going strong.
But don't take this «more of Al, less for Alan» for a retracting of my earlier words: major or mior key, all of this is uniformly overproduced, overglossed, and polished to near-ugly perfection. The best solution is try and not pay any attention to the production at all, but concentrate on the basic melody. I am not a Parsons-hater (in fact, I have lots of respect for The Project in its classic form), yet the best thing about Time Passages is still Stewart's persona whenever it emerges, plus Tim Renwick's guitar playing whenever it is he that gets the chance to solo and not any of the keyboard or sax players. Most of the songs are still reasonably well written; unfortunately, Parsons seems to have spoiled Stewart into thinking that arrangement and production matter at least as much as the melody, if not more, and, furthermore, resulted in turning him into a heavy Parsons addict. Just one listen to his next record is sufficient to see how disastrous that addiction turned out eventually. Thumbs up through clenched teeth — and seriously not recommended for anyone with a significant alergy to typical 1970s production values.